People, Travel

S. Africa in Need of Visa Overhaul

S. Africa in Need of Visa OverhaulS. Africa in Need of Visa Overhaul

South Africa’s new visa regulations have led to a “worrying drop” in foreign visitors and a new approach may be needed, tourism minister Derek Hanekom said on Wednesday.

Last year, South Africa implemented new rules requiring visitors to provide biometric data when applying for visas, a problem for people in large countries like China, which only has South African consulates in Beijing and Shanghai, Reuters reported.

“We need to find a better way of doing it. The impact is not only on tourism but on investment into the country as well,” Hanekom told the 702 radio station.

The tourism sector has grown steadily since South Africa hosted the soccer world cup in 2010 and is now the third largest contributor to GDP.

While a weaker rand currency, which has dropped about 30 percent against the dollar in the past two years, has made Africa’s most advanced economy a relatively cheap destination for international visitors, arrival numbers fell this year.

The home of Kruger National Park and Table Mountain had fewer visitors from most markets, but Hanekom flagged the 38-percent drop in arrivals from China, a key source of tourists for South Africa.

With official unemployment of about 25 percent and the mining and manufacturing sectors shedding jobs, the government is hoping tourism will create more than 200,000 jobs and generate nearly 500 billion rand by 2020.

Further new rules implemented in June require those traveling with children to carry the children’s full birth certificates in addition to their passports.

Touted by home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba as necessary to curb human trafficking, the new rules have been criticized by the tourism industry and some foreign governments.

“The government has to listen to the economy. The tourism industry is suffering,” Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, told Reuters.

“We understand South Africa needs to protect children but this birth certificate rule is a big no-no.”